What We're Watching: George Floyd murder trial gets underway, Myanmar military's brutal crackdown, terror siege in Mozambique

What We're Watching: George Floyd murder trial gets underway, Myanmar military's brutal crackdown, terror siege in Mozambique

George Floyd murder trial: Ten months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of a white police officer on a Minneapolis street corner, the murder trial of that officer, Derek Chauvin, has finally kicked off . Chauvin is facing three charges including second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The footage of Chauvin pressing his knee against Floyd's neck — and Floyd's cry of "I can't breathe" — galvanized anti-racism protests, some of which turned violent, across the United States last summer. And around the world, people in countries as varied as the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Japan, France, Portugal, and Brazil also rose up to confront racial injustice within their own societies. Within the US, Floyd's killing has sparked a new movement pushing for more police accountability, as well as broader criminal justice reform. But it also inflamed political tensions, with many right-leaning Americans pushing back, contending that police are forced to confront dangerous situations and should be given more leeway to conduct their duties in defense of public order. Whatever happens in the Floyd trial, which is likely to take months, the outcome will surely inflame tensions and create a new wave of unrest in a very divided US — and perhaps even abroad.


Military crackdown intensifies in Myanmar: As pro-democracy protesters show no signs of backing down, Myanmar's generals have struck back with lethal force to disperse the crowds. Over the weekend the military junta launched airstrikes on ethnic groups near the Thai border, leading to 100 deaths on Saturday alone, the highest daily toll since the crisis began nine weeks ago. The military cracked down again the following day, opening fire at a funeral procession outside Yangon for a 20-year-old killed in clashes the previous day. The death toll since the military seized power on February 1 now stands at 459, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, though the true toll is thought to be higher. The Biden administration, meanwhile, says it is working on a "plan" to address the situation as fears of a possible civil war in Myanmar grow. But details are scarce, and so far, the economic sanctions that Washington has imposed on the junta appear to have had little effect.

Mozambique insurgency escalates: Dozens of people, including at least seven foreigners, were killed over the weekend when local jihadists laid siege to a town in northern Mozambique that serves as the base for a massive offshore natural gas development. For more than three years now, fighters belonging to the "Al-Shabaab" militant group have been waging a brutal insurgency in the surrounding Cabo Delgado province that has killed thousands and displaced close to 700,000 people. Although the fighters claim loose ties to the Islamic State — and have adopted familiar ISIS tactics of beheadings, kidnappings, and ruthless destruction of schools and hospitals — domestic economic grievances appear to play a big role: Cabo Delgado is one of the poorest regions of Mozambique, and many locals don't feel they are set to benefit from the recent discovery of massive natural gas reserves there. Given the natural gas stakes, the area is crawling with foreign mercenary groups hired to protect energy company workers. The US recently announced that its special forces would work with Mozambican troops to quash the insurgency. Given this weekend's brazen attack, the militants don't appear to be overly concerned about Uncle Sam just yet.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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